What Matters Most

What Matters Most: Personal Convictions

This is part 5 of a multi-part series on “What Matters Most.” Click these links for part 1part 2part 3, & part 4.

Everything we believe may be important, but not equally so. We draw a hard line around orthodoxy that defines our Christian belief and fellowship. We draw a dotted line around our functional distinctives because, while we may enjoy broader fellowship with other Christians, there are certain beliefs that are necessary for a local church to operate in a healthy way. What about our personal convictions?

Within the context of each local church there will be differences in personal convictions and standards among its members (and this list is just about endless). These differences are not differentiated by lines but by the space we allow one another (Romans 14).

Personal convictions and standards are important to the practical living out of the Christian life. At some point we have to take the commands, teachings, and principles taught in the Word of God and bring them down to where we live. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

While personal convictions may be a good thing, there are also accompanying dangers. There will be a tendency to view these standards as a badge of spirituality, or even to judge other’s spirituality by how well they measure up to our own personal standards. This can lead to a type of Phariseeism that hurts everyone. On the other hand, a disdain for personal convictions can easily push us toward a life that is just as dangerous. Most of the students I talk to agree that this is the greater challenge for their generation. Either way, legalism or license, we miss the point of grace.

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

What Matters Most: Functional Distinctives

This is part 4 of a multi-part series on “What Matters Most. Click these links for part 1part 2, or part 3.

Most Christians that I know would agree on “the fundamentals of the faith,” the sine que non of true, historic, Christian orthodoxy. After that, we begin to differ, both in our functional distinctives and in our personal convictions. And while everything we believe is important, not everything is equally important.

Functional distinctives are beliefs and practices that are necessary for a local church to operate in a healthy way. These might include, but not be limited to; mode of baptism, church polity, eschatology, spiritual gifts, view of soteriology (reformed or not), and basic philosophy of ministry (doxological or soteriological). The temptation might be to add everything we believe to this list, but I am not convinced that “everything we believe” fits here. Not every belief is a fundamental of the faith, and not every belief is necessary for a church to have healthy life. Some of our beliefs should remain as our personal convictions. We need to strive for unity—not unanimity.

The church, as well as the para-church organization, will need to decide upon the functional distinctives as well as the degree of compliance necessary for organizational participants: administrators, representatives, faculty, staff, accepted students, candidates for graduation, members of the alumni association, etc. I think these distinctions should be drawn very thoughtfully and carefully.

If everything we believe is important, but not equally so, it might even be a good idea to develop at least a two-tier doctrinal statement:

  1. A statement of faith that would clearly delineate an orthodox position.
  2. A statement of functional distinctives that would give necessary clarity and guidance for the healthy operation of a church or organization.

Both of these doctrinal statements should include what is necessary, but not more than what is necessary. After that, freedom should be allowed for different views as long as they do not violate Scripture, prove to be divisive, or hinder the work of the church.

I believe it was Augustine who said it first, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

What Matters Most: How We Draw the Lines

This is part 3 of a multi-part series on “What Matters Most. Click these links for part 1 or part 2.

I believe that the same lines that I draw for an orthodox Christian faith are the same lines that I should draw for Christian fellowship. I believe that every true born again Christian is a brother or sister in Christ and that not only can I have fellowship with him or her, it is what Christ has intended, and it is what brings him great delight (Romans 1:1; Philippians 2:1-11). For me to draw dividing lines that He has not drawn grieves Him, hurts the body of Christ, and hinders the work of the Great Commission.

The mode of baptism, timing of the rapture, cessationist or non-cessationist positions, dispensational or covenant positions, church polity, style of music, philosophy of ministry—are NOT fundamentals of the faith. They never have been. When we get to heaven I think there are going to be a lot of people feeling ashamed about how they fought over these things and neglected what matters most.

Every local church or ministry will have its functional distinctives, and we need these. Every believer will have his own personal convictions, beliefs, and opinions. We need these as well. They are not unimportant and they may even affect the degree of practical cooperation in certain ministry contexts. But, these are not matters of separation and those who don’t agree with someone else’s opinions are not simply disobedient brothers.

A disobedient brother is someone who is in clear violation of biblical teaching and one who after repeated confrontation continues in his sin. The Bible gives plenty of instruction on how to work through these situations in love and toward restoration (Galatians 6:1-5).

What do we separate over?

  1. The Christian should expose and separate from a false Gospel (Galatians 1:8,9).
  2. The Christian should expose and separate from another Christian who continues to walk in disobedience (after following a biblical process for restoration, I Corinthians 5:9-13).
  3. The Christian should separate from the world (This is another discussion that I would like to take up in the future because I find many people have a wrong view of  “the world” I John 2:15-17).

I can visit a church on Sunday morning, fellowship with believers, love what I am seeing, encourage fellow believers in what they are doing—and still choose not to join that particular local assembly. When we start separating over every belief and opinion we soon find ourselves standing all alone, criticizing the rest of body of Christ. I don’t think that is what God intended (I Corinthians 1:10-17).

Let’s separate to Christ and enjoy the sweet fellowship with every believer walking with Him. Let the church be the church autonomous. Let every believer stand and give an account for his own life as a priest before God. And let us discuss our differences with grace, integrity, and humility.

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

What Matters Most: Is it all About the Gospel?

This is part 2 in a series, “What Matters Most.” Part 1 can be found here.

Recently I heard someone say, “It’s not all about the gospel.” This caused me to think through the scope and implications  of a term I use so often—the gospel. If we reduce the gospel down to salvation or the events of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, then I think a person might conclude that there has to be more to Christianity than just that. But, I do not see how we can reduce the gospel in such a way.

I see the gospel as the full person and work of Christ from eternity to eternity with all of its implications for us. It is more than a matter of our justification; it is also about how we live and what we are called to do. For Paul, his separation to the gospel was seen in his theology, life, and message. If we believe Christ to be God; our creator, the lamb slain before the foundation of the world, and the one to whom we will ultimately give account, then we will see this good news from eternity to eternity. While the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ prove to be the centerpiece of the story, everything flows from Him, through Him, and to Him (Romans 11:36).

We must, however, be careful. There are other ways to be overly simplistic, even shallow. If we answer in a pious tone, “It’s all about the gospel,” to everything we are asked, we can push off serious thinking or discussion. Thabiti Anyabwile last week had an excellent post on this very problem, “I’m Tired of Hearing “The ‘Gospel’ Warning: Mild Rant).”

I have referred to Galatians several times in previous posts. Paul is fiercely adamant about the gospel, and makes it very clear that we have to get this right. He shows how this effects both justification and sanctification. It is a warning about both. The same gospel that saves us from sin and gives us eternal life is the same gospel that fuels the Christian life on earth. It is a doctrine of grace, through faith, evidencing itself in love.

Yes, when it comes to Christianity in its fullest sense, it IS all about the gospel!

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

What Matters Most

We all believe in certain things, but not all of those things carry equal weight. This is especially true when it comes to our theology. There is a big difference between what you believe about the resurrection, and what you believe about the timing of the rapture, or how the polity is going to be structured in your church. Many things may be important, but not equally so. When we value everything we believe equally, we soon find ourselves dividing over secondary issues and neglecting matters of much greater importance.

This is why Paul said in I Corinthians 15:3, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance….”

So, on a particular belief do you draw a hard line, dotted line, or just give a person space? While there may not be a perfect illustration, I have found Al Mohler’s “Theological Triage” very helpful as I process my own thoughts. His original post on the topic can be found here, or a newer abbreviated article is in this issue of Southern Magazine.

I would agree that there are at least three tiers/categories to this discussion:

  1. The first/top tier is orthodoxy. What doctrines are necessary for a person to truly be “Christian?” Sometimes we have referred to these as “the fundamentals of the faith.” While five of these were distinguished in the early part of the last century, I do think there are more. These would be beliefs that are necessary to have a true gospel, an orthodox faith, and an authentic Christianity. I believe it is very clear that Paul draws a hard line here with orthodoxy when we read Galatians. If we don’t get this right, we don’t get anything right.
  2. The second tier is one of functional distinctives. These teachings are necessary for a local church to function effectively—such as mode of baptism and church polity. We may have great fellowship with a Presbyterian and even have him preach for us in our church, but we probably won’t be members of the same church. We differ because we interpret certain texts differently. I see this as a “dotted line.” We can both be Christians who love the Lord and seek to please Him in all we do and we can enjoy times together in and out of the contexts of our local churches.
  3. The third tier is personal convictions. These are matters of conscience or preference. These are important, but believers should be able to differ and still enjoy fellowship within the context of the same local church. Love and respect will “give people space.” It is a Romans 14 spirit within the body and does not prohibit a healthy functioning of the local assembly of believers. In fact, the differences can be a strengthening characteristic.

Over the next few weeks I would like to speak to the implications of our theology and “What Matters Most.”